Our first home was built in the 1920’s. When we purchased it in 1976, we learned that the woodwork was American Chestnut, which was largely extinct. I had done several wood refinishing projects on pieces of furniture, and got the idea in my head that it would be really neat to restore the original woodwork – baseboards, window and door frames, and a lovely banister to the second floor. It was a neat idea, but removing 5 decades of paint while living in the house, doing most of the work while our sons napped, was not so neat nor easy.
But I’m persistent if nothing else, and so I stuck with it. I spent hours armed with heat gun, chemical strippers, putty knife, and sander, scrapping away the layers. Some of the colors were familiar, like Faux Fern from the ‘70’s, through Avocado Green from the ‘60’s, to a Poodle Skirt Pink from the ‘50’s, and then through colors I’d only seen in old photos, Air Force Blue from the ‘40’s, Yellow Brick Road from the ‘30’s , and an Antique Gold from the ‘20’s. In between there were coats of more sedate browns and off-whites, until I final got to the original wood. After more sanding than I would have ever imagined possible, that America Chestnut wood was absolutely incredible.
We sold the house about three years later, and I’ve always wondered what the new owners did with that wood. My worst fear was that it was painted with a hideous Packman Yellow that was popular in the ‘80s. I chose to never go back to look in the windows, to see what the new owners had done with it.
This season of COVID has served to scrape away some of the things I’ve “painted over” through the years. Some of those layers look pretty good right now. I’ve remembered how to live without running to the store for every little thing I want, and the thrill of simple things like planting a vegetable garden. But some of those layers aren’t so pretty, like my capacity to go from hopeful to despairing, from calm and centered to anxious and angry in the blink of the eye, or the click of a remote. Calmly examining each new layer like an archaeologist welcoming everything on a dig – the trash heap as well as the gems – allows for the slow, and often painful, work of God’s restoration.
The trifecta of COVID 19, the economic crisis, and rampant anger are scrapping away some layers as well. Some of those look pretty good, like our capacity to care for others and to sacrifice our personal preferences for the good of community. Some of those layers, ones that have been painted over for generations, like racism, are deeply disturbing. May we do the work of the archaeologist – and allow for the “slow work of God”* to change us all. (See Chardin’s Trust in the Slow Work of God below)
Trust the slow work of God ~ Anne
*Trust in the Slow Work of God
Above all, trust in the slow work of God
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something
unknown, something new. And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability-
and that it may take a very long time. And so I think it is with you.
your ideas mature gradually – let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste. Don’t try to force them on, as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances
acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow. Only God could say what this new spirit gradually forming within you will be. Give Our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you, and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.
– Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J. (1881-1955)